LONDON – The goals continued to flow for Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AS Roma’s Edin Dzeko as they bagged hat-tricks to help their teams take commanding leads in the first legs of their Europa League last 32 ties on Thursday.
United swept aside St. Etienne 3-0 at Old Trafford and Roma made light work of last season’s semifinalist Villarreal with a 4-0 win in Spain, leaving their sides with little work to do in next week’s return encounters.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League campaign, however, got off to a frustrating start as they were beaten 1-0 at mid-table Belgian outfit Gent, while Olympique Lyonnais beat AZ Alkmaar 4-1 away and Fiorentina edged Borussia Moenchengladbach 1-0.
St. Etienne will be totally sick of the sight of Ibrahimovic as the Swede took his tally against the Ligue 1 side to 17 goals in 14 games, having terrorized Les Verts during his four years at Paris St. Germain.
“Every time I’ve played against St. Etienne, with hard work there has been a couple of goals. I’ve scored a couple of goals tonight and hopefully I can do the same next week,” Ibrahimovic told BT Sport.
He opened the scoring with a deflected free kick in the first half and added two more — a tap-in and a late penalty — after the break as United quelled the visitors’ early enthusiasm.
The match was billed as a battle of the Pogba brothers with younger sibling Paul facing St. Etienne’s Florentin for the first time in a competitive encounter.
It was the 35-year-old Ibrahimovic who stole the show, however, grabbing his first United hat trick and taking his tally in a remarkable maiden season at Old Trafford to 23.
Dzeko is in a similarly rich vein of form at Roma, which swatted aside a Villarreal team that is in free fall having now won just one of its last 10 games in all competitions.
Emerson Palmieri gave Roma the lead after 32 minutes and then Dzeko took over after the break, netting for the seventh straight game to double the lead in the 65th minute before adding two more goals to take his tally for the campaign to 28.
The Spurs, who have dropped into the competition from the Champions League, were off color throughout in Belgium and were undone in the second half when journeyman French striker Jeremy Perbet stroked home at the second attempt on the hour.
The Spurs had arrived looking to restore pride in north London soccer after Arsenal was thrashed 5-1 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, but was stifled in a poor performance and was lucky to escape with a one-goal deficit.
After Perbet scored, Gent, eighth in the Belgian League, had a golden chance to double its lead but Danijel Milicevic’s effort was tipped onto the post by ‘keeper Hugo Lloris.